If an alien landed on earth this morning, he'd be forgiven if he thought Steve Jobs was Prometheus, Jesus and Henry Ford all rolled up into one, that all the wails and lamentations, the celebrations and tributes, marked the passing of the world's greatest mind.
Usually, this sort of hagiography is reserved for the dead -- or for the presidential candidate who shares our party affiliation -- during mourning periods in which churlish people like myself usually have to shut up and not say, "Yes, but ..." (with the exception of Christopher Hitchens). But Jobs isn't dead; he's simply resigned as CEO of Apple. So allow me to point out that the man is no fallen angel -- hell, when it comes to charitable use of his amassed wealth, he's not even a fallen Bill Gates -- and he isn't a perfect businessman.
He's made mistakes. And it's because we supposedly learn more from mistakes than successes -- and not because I'm a contrarian crank -- that I offer up a handful of them.
The Lisa made the Edsel look like the Lexus rollout. A $10,000 computer. In the early '80s. Twenty-first-century trendsetters might be willing to pay top dollar for snazzy computers with locked-down, proprietary software, but business owners in the Reagan era were having none of it. To be completely fair, Jobs might not have been personally responsible for this stinker. But he was head of the Lisa/McIntosh division at the time, so, you know, own it big guy. Indeed, according to a 2006 article from OS Magazine, his mismanagement of this division in the mid-1980s is what lead to his original ouster from the company.
Oh, sure, Jobs has had his hand in culture-shaping advertising. Apple's "1984" spot is often held up as the best Super Bowl ad of all time (by ad-industry people, not by regular consumers). But everyone seems to forget that the very next year Jobs' Macintosh division was responsible for perhaps the worst Super Bowl ad of all time. Called "Lemmings," it featured people blindfolded and marching off a cliff. Whereas "1984" showed non-Apple consumers as oppressed by an authoritarian system, "Lemmings" showed non-Apple consumers as a bunch of rodents, too stupid to see that they were committing suicide -- which may be how Jobs (perhaps) and Apple users (definitely) see non-Apple consumers.
3. The Tin Ear
This incident can be best summed up by Jobs' reaction to the news that the iPhone 4 didn't work so well as a phone when held in the left hand. "Quit being left-handed, ya big dummy, and here's a rubber bumper. Steve Jobs don't care. Steve Jobs don't give a shit." (I'm paraphrasing a bit.) And while this might seem a one-off, Apple's customer service isn't all it's cracked up to be. Sure, Apple stores are totally awesome and the Genius Bar is the nerd equivalent of table service at a nightclub. But what happens if you don't live anywhere near one? What happens when your precious Apple product breaks. (Yes, they break.) You have to call customer support, where you'll be quickly reminded that you'll be getting no service boy-o, because you didn't spring for Apple Care. Maybe you figured you were paying twice what you'd pay for a similar sized PC and such service would be included in the price, or perhaps Apple Care sounded exactly like those extended warranty offers that electronics retailers try to shove down your throat -- and your Mama didn't raise a fool. Either way, NO TECH SUPPORT FOR YOU!
4. The Great White Wall
Whether you're an iTunes user, an iPhone app developer or an iPad publisher, it's Steve's world and you just play in it. His roof, his rules. His way or the highway. To be honest, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. I'm only including this to appease the sort of people who say things like "information wants to be free" with a straight face or believe that politicians have any interest in transparency. You know, a certain sort of New Yorker who grouses loudly about Michael Bloomberg's police state, but who voted him in for a barely legal third term because of the economy and would never have considered moving to New York before that goon Giuliani cleaned up the streets. Of course, the difference between New York and Apple-land is that the latter has never claimed to be a democracy and never will -- and it never should be one. Information doesn't want to be free and consumers -- even goofy ones who claim to believe such a thing -- will pay through the nose for an environment policed by a slightly priggish god who keeps out the virus carriers, spam slingers and porn purveyors. In a way, Steve Jobs has become the very face of the Big Brother smashed in the "1984" ad, but I say keep up the good work, Steve.
5. The Flash Foolishness
The problem with benevolent dictators with tin ears is they get into ego battles that can have an adverse affect on consumers. Whatever the true, secret basis for the pissing match between Jobs and Adobe (and conspiracy theories abound), his public explanation for why he'd rather not have Flash within the walls of his precious garden was downright laughable. Steve Jobs complaining about a proprietary system that isn't open? Really, Steve Jobs. Really?! But seriously, while Jobs had some semi-decent technical reasons for banishing Flash, his biggest one boiled down to the fact that Apple was building a platform for the future and Flash was the thing of the past. But that overlooked one crucial piece of the puzzle: the consumer, who lives in the present and, while would love to view everything in the future on Apple-approved viewers, can't watch things NOW because it's all on Flash!
6. Apple Fanboys and Fangirls
I know. This isn't Steve Jobs' fault. Then again, he doesn't do much to not act like a cult leader, what with the black turtlenecks and the general sense of secrecy and isolation broken by the occasional come-down-from-the-mountain presentations to the masses. Whatever the case, those people give the rest of us -- even those of us who use Apple products -- headaches and hives. No coincidence that in those Mac vs. PC ads, the PC came off as the one you'd actually want to hang out with and the Mac as someone you'd like to give a wedgie and kick off your lawn. Steve, now that you've got some extra time on your hands, maybe you can do something about them.
Well, that's my exhaustive list. If you have others, feel free to add in the comments. I'm sure Steve Jobs has done other unsaintly things -- maybe he speeds or teases kittens. But I haven't heard about them. I hear he doesn't have much truck with social media and he obviously likes to spend large sums of money on TV ads, billboards and print, but those are pluses in my book. And the man delivers something I wish more companies delivered -- a product that works as advertised.
Steve Jobs, you can stand on my lawn any time you want. But if Bill Gates comes over, you have to play nice.